Claire Hutchison

Opinions on current affairs & news in science

Comment, Science

How feminism can play a key role in combating climate change

Climate change is arguably the most pressing issue facing our current society. Along with myriad  others, the problems it creates include the increased severity of natural disasters, desertification, rising sea levels and a wider spread of malaria. In 2007, The London School of Economics carried out a study, which detailed this correlation and also that of the higher death rate found in females over males.

Natural disasters primarily affect areas in the developing world due to both their geographic location and the socioeconomic vulnerability of the people who reside there. It has been shown that during such disasters, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men; this is a result of how women typically care of the elderly and young. Furthermore, in up to 63% of households in the rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, the women in the family accumulate and carry the water. Due to climate change leading to desertification in many areas, clean water supplies are dwindling, leaving many women with a more severe workload, lack of income or education due to reduced free time.

It is argued by many that the tendency for women to be affected by climate change is due to social and religious factors in the developing world. In this area, gender inequality is also more common. One such example is how, in many third world families, women eat last and have the least amount of food whilst still carrying out high levels of manual labour and caring for the young and elderly. This makes them physically weaker. On the other hand, it is argued by some that women are more affected than men because 70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people below the poverty threshold in the developing world are women. However this statistic is vastly disputed.

There also appears to be discrepancies in the UN’s plans to mitigate climate change related fatalities. Developing countries’ plans submitted to the UN often disregard the fact that, in many societies, women are seen as second class citizens – making supposed solutions ineffective. This particular issue seems to be one which can be alleviated by the advocacy of female empowerment worldwide.

The social empowerment of women has become more prolific in recent years due to its prominence in the media, as well as individual activists such as Malala Yousafzai. This can be viewed as very beneficial to tackling the gender barrier that makes women more vulnerable. In many areas, such as the Mugu district of Nepal, women have begun addressing certain issues caused by climate change; this includes changing planting seasons, asking for repairs to areas damaged by landslides and being more vocal in the village council meetings.

In the on-going battle against climate change, it is clear that we must reinforce the concept of gender equality in order to benefit society as a whole.

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